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Daniel Sloss Says the U.S. Has World’s Best 10% and Worst 75% of Stand-ups

Photo: Vulture and HBO

Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss has been doing stand-up comedy in the U.K. since, as he’s said, he “looked like sperm,” and in the years since, he has brought his successful Edinburgh Fringe shows like Dark and Jigsaw to the United States. Last year, his HBO special, Daniel Sloss: X, dealt with the difficult subjects of masculinity and sexual assault. Sloss, who once had a gun pulled on him in America over a joke, is a stand-up antihero, using his power to explore provocative subjects, even when he knows they’ll get him in trouble, for good.

In this episode of Vulture’s Good One podcast, Sloss talks about his comedy heroes, why America has the best and the worst of stand-up comedy, and learning when to retire a joke. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode right below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Good One

A Podcast About Jokes

On Finding Your Audience

I fucking hated my audience. I didn’t like them. One of my early breaks was on a show called Paul O’Grady. They stuck me on, and they censored my material in the sense I wasn’t going to swear. None of the rude bits were allowed in. I went onstage, and people were getting just upset by swearing, which to me is so fucking pathetic. It’s so fucking pathetic to be offended by swearing. It’s like being allergic to water. That’s the blandest fucking thing. And [if] you’re upset by that … How do you expect me to respect any part of you as a person? If a simple fucking word not even said with malice upsets you, fuck off. I have no interest in you as a human being. You are utterly beneath me. People were getting upset, going, “I don’t like how much you swear. Your comedy’s getting very blue.” Oh, fuck off. I hate them. I hated them.

I remember being onstage at Edinburgh Festival, doing my sixth or seventh show. And people would get up and walk, 20 or 30 people a show, because they’d seen me on telly being a young cheeky chappy, heavily censored, not swearing, not doing anything too taboo. And then I’m onstage telling cancer jokes, and there’s no God, and people would leave. It was a hard decision to make. I was like, You’re needing this to want to appeal to everyone, to really put my foot down on myself and go, No. Like, You don’t want those people as fans. The ones that stay, cultivate them. Keep them. Find your audience. Don’t try and be so broadly fucking appealing.

On the Difference Between American and U.K. Audiences

The first time I came to America, it blew my mind that comedians just went onstage with no fucking material. I’m like, What are you doing? And it’s because over here, not to sound like a dick, but none of you ever feared your audience, and it shows. American audiences are so, from the second you walk onstage, it’s Let’s give this guy a chance. Like, Why would he be onstage if he wasn’t good? You’re like, No, no. There’s so many shit comedians out there.

And in the U.K., if you do not make the audience laugh … like, we did gong shows. Gong shows are pretty much the only way you could get spots. Like the Comedy Store, in Manchester, was, you go onstage, you’ve got five minutes. If you last the five minutes, you can come back maybe and do another five on a real night. But there’s three people in the audience with their cards, and if those three cards go out, you get gonged off halfway through your fucking set. It’s a horrible, terrifying thing. You’ve got to make the audience laugh from the fucking get-go.

Especially when I was younger, I walked onstage — I look young now; I looked like sperm when I was 17, like I was so youthful that they didn’t trust that I was gonna be funny. I always had to be the best on the bill. I always had to just punchline-punchline-punchline. To know that the jokes are funny, I had to put the work in. Then I come over here, and comedians who I love, like Bill Burr, he’s had a bit of advice on a podcast once that I can’t take onboard. And it kills me, because I love him so much. But it was like, “You wouldn’t rehearse a conversation in front of your friends in the pub.” And I go, “Well, no, Bill, we can’t all be as good as you.”

On the Best (and Worst) American Stand-ups

I think the top 10% of American comedians are the best in the world, bar none. You’ve got a few outliers from the rest of the world — like Scotland’s obviously got Billy Connolly. But the top 10% of American comics are the best in the world. Then you’ve got the next 15%, who are really good, like really good, but what I would say is as good as the best in the U.K. And then the bottom 75% are the worst fucking stand-ups in the fucking world. Bar none. Shockingly appalling. Because you don’t fear your audience and it shows, man.

I remember when I started coming over to L.A. and just being so fucking nervous, like I’m in America, man. Come on. I’m in America, the capital of fucking comedy. And just people going onstage and just talking about their fucking day, just telling people what they had for fucking lunch, their shitty opinions that they wrote down in a fucking car. No respect for the audience, no respect for themselves … and I’m like, I’m gonna fucking crush it. And I did, because I went on with punchlines. I remember going on, the first minute, just going gag-gag-gag-gag-gag-gag. And I guess that’s going to piss people off.

I mean it, though. Go to the rest of the world and see what their open-mic scene is like. The young scene in Australia is amazing. The amount of brilliant comics that are coming out of there is amazing. Even in fucking places like Russia, their scene is fucking growing. Eastern Europe. There’s all these new scenes that are coming up.

The love of the craft that the rest of the world has, because we grew up watching that 10%? We grew up watching that amazing 10% and then via podcast, finding out about the 15% and being like, Have you heard of Pete Holmes? Have you heard of Patrice O’Neal? Have you heard of Tig Notaro? You get so excited. Obviously, these comedians are big here, but we didn’t know. So that’s what you think American comedy is like: Oh, my God, they’re so good. And then you’ve got this bottom fucking 75% who’ve never watched stand-up in their fucking life, or they did watch stand-up and they misunderstood it. They misunderstood it. They went, I’ve watched this comedian walk onstage and casually talk about things. All I’m going to do is go onstage and casually talk about things. And it fuckin’ shows.

On Comics Who Don’t Watch Other Comics

It blows my mind, other comedians who don’t watch other comics. Do you reckon footballers who are in the World Cup final don’t fucking watch the World Cup final? What are you doing? Do you love this game or not? I’ve watched comedy since I was 5 years old. I love it, man. And I understand the fear that people have of I don’t wanna be fucking influenced. I’m like, I do. I absolutely do. I want to see what the the best are doing and be fucking inspired, like seeing comedians at the top of their game. Tig Notaro doing Live and going I didn’t know I could do that. Bill Burr, that helicopter bit — I didn’t know mic technique could be so impressive. I didn’t know you could play around like … the act-outs!

Watching comedians do all these, like Fucking why don’t I? And I don’t think that’s stealing — it’s being inspired. It’s like a chef not eating at other restaurants. Sometimes when I write a funny joke, I’m like, Fuck. Have I heard this on a special somewhere? Like, Is this my own genuine fucking thought? That’s why it’s good to be friends with so many comedians who also love comedy, because I’ll always put it in my group chat: Has anyone heard about this? And they’ll go, No, no, no, we haven’t. When comics don’t watch other comics, I’m like, How can you possibly ever expect to be the best if you don’t know what the best looks like? That’s insanity.

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